The Angel of the Lord at Bokim (2:1–5)
As a result of being “abandoned” by God, the Israelites were in great distress (verse 15). Of course, God had not abandoned the Israelites: He was testing them, disciplining them (verse 22); He was giving them a chance to repent and return to Him. Yes, God had caused their distress; He had “sold” them. But He was waiting to “buy” them back.
The experience of these ancient Israelites applies to Christians today. God disciplines (distresses) those whom He loves (see Hebrews 12:5–11). He knows exactly what kind of DISCIPLINE we need and how much. Our task is to recognize the discipline and respond to it correctly—by repenting and returning to the Lord.17
The Lord disciplines and tests us for our good (see Exodus 15:25–27 and comment). He is loving and patient, but His patience has a limit (see Exodus 34:4–7 and comment). If we continue in disobedience without repentance, at some point the Lord will no longer be available to us; we will have cut our selves off from Him. That was the fate of many Israelites throughout the period of the judges, and it serves as a warning for us today.
16–19 Here again we see the sequence of events that occurs repeatedly throughout the book of Judges: the Israelites disobey (verses 11–12); the Lord punishes them, disciplines them (verse 14); the people cry out in distress (verse 15); the Lord hears their cry and sends them deliverers, judges (verse 16); and yet the people refuse to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways (verse 19). This shows us that simply getting a new environment (a promised land) is not enough to change old ways. Change on the outside doesn’t change what’s inside; true change begins within—within one’s heart (see Deuteronomy 6:6 and comment).
In verse 17, the writer tells us that the Israelites prostituted themselves to other gods. To serve gods other than the one true God is to commit spiritual adultery (Hosea 1:2; 3:1); it is to act like a prostitute (see Exodus 34:15–16 and comment).
Again we see the Lord’s compassion on His people (verse 18). But as soon as one deliverer (judge) died, the people returned to even more corrupt ways (verse 19). They forgot God’s saving acts, just as they had forgotten God’s saving acts during the time of Moses.
20–23 In verse 22, the writer gives a reason why the Lord did not drive out all the Canaanites during Joshua’s lifetime: He intended to use the Canaanites to test the Israelites to see if they would obey Him. This testing was itself a form of discipline or punishment for the Israelites’ disobedience (see verses 14–15 and comment). Just as a father punishes his child in order to correct his ways, so the Lord punished Israel.
These experiences of the Israelites following Joshua’s death give us a demonstration of how deceptively sin grows. It starts small, and is usually followed by some small consequence that is easy to ignore. The Israelites had been told to drive out the Canaanites, but they decided to just “let them be.” That would cause no harm, they thought. But then they became friendly with the Canaanites, and that led to intermarriage (Judges 3:6)—something that Moses had strictly forbidden (Deuteronomy 7:3). And finally the Israelites were enticed to serve the Canaanite gods, their greatest sin of all. And each step along the way the Israelites’ hearts grew harder and harder—they became even more corrupt (verse 19)—until in the end there was nothing left for God to do but “give them over” to their sinful ways (Romans 1:24,26,28).
Such is the nature of sin; it is never satisfied with just a little. That little compromise we think will do no harm leads on to a bigger compromise. One sin leads to a bigger sin, and all the while Satan is telling us not to worry—these aren’t sins anyway.
But God is not fooled, and in the end we will reap what we have sown (Galatians 6:7). However, at any stage this progression of sin can be halted, indeed reversed. All we need to do is to confess our sin and turn from it (see Leviticus 5:5–6 and comment), and God will cleanse us and make us new (1 John 1:9).
But it’s much easier never to go down the path of compromise in the first place. The Israelites should never have intermingled with the Canaanites.18 Israel was God’s holy nation (Exodus 19:6); Israel was to be God’s means of demonstrating His HOLINESS to the world, so that all people might have the chance to share in Israel’s blessings (Genesis 12:3). But instead, through compromise and disobedience, Israel allowed itself to be weakened and ultimately defiled by the Canaanites. Throughout the period of the judges, the Israelites failed to fulfill God’s purposes; and so He rejected them. Not until the reign of King David would Israel once again begin to fulfill God’s purposes for His chosen people.
Today many nominally Christian churches have compromised with the non-Christian world. They have adopted the world’s views and values; they too are in danger of being rejected by God. May each Christian and each church heed the words of the Apostle Paul: Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:17–18).